1. Pride. Pride I think is the main reason why it’s so hard to forgive. Pride makes it harder for us to trust God. We say to ourselves, I don’t want to forgive, and I don’t have to! And so in our pride we cut off God’s help to us.
2. Fear. Fear also keeps us from His help. We say to ourselves, I’m afraid; forgiveness is too hard. Here again we are not looking to God for help; we are instead looking at our weakness, the giant who hurt us, and the huge problem ahead of us.
So pride and fear I think are the real reasons why forgiveness is so difficult and why we don’t forgive. But I also want to give you three of the reasons (or excuses) we will give as to why forgiveness is too hard for us—so we can take a look at them and analyze them:
3. Suffering for another’s sin doesn’t seem just. Naturally we don’t like the idea of having to bear the penalty for another person’s sin. We don’t like having to suffer for something they did to us—because it is so hard and seems unfair. And so we don’t trust God to carry out His justice in His time. We want justice our way and in our time—now, not later.
4. Revenge seems better to us. We say: It is only natural to want revenge. If someone harms me it’s only right for me to harm him back. So instead of forgiving and letting God be the judge we act as God to carry out our own idea of justice.
5. Keeping the separation seems safer. Richard P. Walter, in his book, Forgive and Be Free, talks about fear as being a huge barrier in forgiving a person. He states, “…We may believe that forgiving the other person will increase the chances that he or she will hurt us gain.”3 Unfortunately, many of us believe this. We think that if we keep distance between those that hurt us we are safer.
The problem with this is that even though we may seem safer, all the while the distance we attempt to create makes us more vengeful and bitter, causing ourselves even more hurt. In the end we become a very bitter, angry person, incapable of love and kindness toward others—because we have learned only to create distance not to reconcile.
As far as our notion that we need to establish our own justice and revenge, let’s look at what the Bible says. In Romans 12:9 it says, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
Our trying to punish or take revenge will do nothing for our pain. It will only make the problem worse, because after we take our own revenge, we will have to suffer the guilt of our wrongful retaliation. But if we let God handle it, then the whole weight is lifted off our back—guilt is removed, and understanding and love take its place.
3 Richard Walters, Forgive and Be Free, Healing the Wounds of Past and Present (Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, Michigan:) 1983, p. 43.